TFE Shop: The Turns of A Business
I am long overdue for this update guys. Let me tell you! I kind of miss writing and rambling here about things. I find that this season between getting sick (oh yeah didn’t share much about that here), realizing my body needs some proper care, chasing a toddler, managing the busy nature of summer in a vacation town, and running and growing a business, it feels that time here is more limited than ever before. Though I share quite often on Instagram, I sometimes just miss wandering and pouring my heart here sometimes. So today, I thought I would give you some proper chatting about the shop since A LOT has changed.
The Fresh Exchange has always been about passion. It has stemmed out of what do I love. A true extension of my heart and soul. It was never meant or intended to be something that fell any farther than that and I have realized over the last few years how easily it can quickly slip away from that. I had debated many directions for what to do with the blog space as I progressed into the shop. I have always seen the blog as my heart and soul of what I do. It is where I share things and now in many ways Instagram is a further extension of that as well. But the blog is the base of it all. Everything about our business and it’s growth has been because of this space so how do I deal with the foundation before I move into adding on any additions of this place?
I debated about hiring an editorial director last year and expanding things and making this space separate of me, but I couldn’t. It felt like sending my first born off to boarding school. I couldn’t pull myself away from it. It felt too personal and like I would lose something in that. So I nixed that (but I never say never) and I also knew that decision came with financial weight I didn’t want. I knew I wanted to step away from sponsorships other than things I REALLY believed in (like local businesses and the farmers market) even if they didn’t pay as well and wanted to take the perspective of sponsorships as a bonus to life right now and take away the financial pressure.
So I decided I didn’t want to scale this part of my business. I thought I would let this place (blog) be what it is. I would come here when I could and if I could do 2-3 posts a week I was killing it. I set realistic expectations. I then decided to pour my time into Instagram and show up there more to connect with you guys. This is why Dinner Served has showed up and more. I knew I had to continue connecting because I love it! I love inspiring you and helping you and making you feel that seasonal living and local life is possible and attainable. I also just love writing and sharing my random thoughts on seasons, let’s be real. This once again wasn’t something I could hire out.
But a few times I watched as other people similar to myself started hiring and I thought my gosh maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am doing this in a way that isn’t right. After a lot of tears, a trip to SF for a conference with Pinterest, and some much needed West Coast air, getting sick, and some more crying, I found the heart of it. It sounds nuts, but I think creating a business with heart isn’t linear. There isn’t a clear path and in fact it is best this way. The best work comes from a nonlinear path. The most fulfilling comes from those places. I am someone who has to be this way for. I have to be free to roam and find my path.
What I found was that building a business full of people wasn’t the line of success I had in my mind. I listened as other bloggers and influencers shared how they built a team and I thought…maybe one day but not in this direction. I didn’t envision an editorial team for myself. I envisioned makers, people working in a store with me, and a family style store when I closed my eyes on that airplane home from California in June. I saw something much more homegrown and less in the world I just sat with, but I knew it would take me building a new foundation to eventually have space for that vision to come to life. I knew it would take a lot of learning, a lot of growing, a slower mindset, and a lot of passion. But What I saw was attainable and real and I know in my heart it will happen. That space where I have no idea where it is here in Leelanau or who will be apart of it completely is my greatest goal in life right now. It brings me a lot of joy just to think about. I know it is what I am intended to do.
Walking away from California, I realized I set the parameters of all of this and that the business of blogging was no longer what I was I meant for. Sure it was the vehicle to where we are now, but now the path I was intended to continue on. I talked with my business counselor and he agreed. He heard it in my heart and voice that the pressures there were no longer fulfilling or right for me. So I let it all go. I mourned the loss of one chapter of my career the last few months. I had to reacquaint myself with this new me. I was no longer pursuing a career of blogging but I still could have a blog, how about that one? I still could write, but now I was creating a lifestyle brand. I was creating a store and I was becoming a maker. This has been huge and such an identity shift. It has felt like freefalling sometimes, but it has been lifegiving to shift my perspective. It also has inspired me and made me feel the sky is the limit.
Now you may be asking, but Megan how are you guys making money? Great question! So I wrote a while ago about how I made the decision to step out of the types of sponsorships I was doing which was the main source of my income while Mike had design clients. I didn’t do much with the design clients and I still consult sometimes, but that was it. Mike and I made the decision that in order for me to create this next stage of my career he would have to take the reigns on our income. So Mike currently makes most of the money for us. We came up with a budget and a plan for saving so we knew what HAD to be made every month and it has worked well for us, mostly cause Mike is smart with business…I take no credit. I still make some money on affiliate linking and a sponsor here or there but they are local and very different and appropriate to my beliefs. It has been hard to say no but I know where I need to spend my time now and what I want. That said, Mike and I see that as a couple we work together to make money. I give him the time he needs to get his work done. He has specific needs to carry the financial weight and I have specific needs to make sure I can pursue what needs to happen. It is a mutual respect and a version of working together. We fight about it at times and it has taken more empathy and communication than ever. Lots of learning, but it is working and I would say we both have grown a lot from this shift for us. We see that it may very well shift again at some point again and I may be the one making more of the money, but for now this is where we are.
That said, we still work together as you see on Dinner Served weekly. The ultimate dream is to have Mike involved in the store and us feel that is our main source of income with some other clients on the side for him, but dreams take time.
So how about the shop in all of this? Awesome question since that is why you are here. I have shifted it a lot. I was given advice through this process by some amazing people and Mike told me that I needed to be organized and smart about this. My ultimate goal in this launch is not to lose money. I have struggled with the idea of investing in all of this since I am not directly making the money right now. That is very real talk. It has taken me a lot of talking and letting go to feel comfortable with working through the financial end of the store.
That said, as I went down prototyping products with makers, I realized that I also wanted to be making things as well. I also realized that it is going to be hard to make quality local products at a price that will make a sustainable economic model. Paying people well for their work isn’t cheap and then making money as the seller isn’t any cheaper. If you could see my notebooks of numbers you would be shocked at what I am learning. Making things with craftsmen is expensive as it SHOULD be. So I realized the best way to support this model was to make things myself as well so I could take some of the financial pressure off of their products. I am exploring a few other models as well with each maker depending on their costs and so on for making the product. I wanted to feel we could do these products but not put all of the financial pressure on them. I find that finances can dictate SOOOO much of the decisions we make in business and I wanted to feel these products could be done to support amazing people but not place all of my income on their success.
So I started thinking about what I was passionate about and if I were to be making things what would it be? I have always wanted to be more hands in my work, thus why I wanted a store, but I never deemed myself crafty. I did a lot of soul searching and realized I love plants. I love the garden. I love food. I love color. I love bandanas and design and I love printing. All things I am good at too. I thought back to the days growing up sitting at my aunt’s drapery business while my mom and her sewed drapes and how my grandmother’s made clothes for me. I thought you know, this is in my blood. I can do this. Every woman in my family sews and is great at it. I mean my grandmother made sheets for her own beds. Why not?! I need a practice in slowness anyways, right?
So I started reading books about natural plant dying, sustainable fabrics, sewing, and how to make prints. This means that yes you guessed it I am doing these things. I have buckets of soy milk on my porch for pretreating fabrics and lines hanging with fabric curing and drying and prepping for dye. I am making extracts and my nightstand consists of books about plant dye, farm to table eating, economic food models, and business books. I am learning it all by myself. I also am sewing because I decided I needed to do this. I needed to learn this if I wanted to enter this world. So I googled it all. I watched videos. I got a sewing machine and while Hayes plays I am sewing the edge of napkins and bandanas and making pillow covers and learning. I have messed up and yelled the F word a few times at my machine because I have no idea what I am doing. That machine has made me grab a cocktail more than once in the last few months, but when I finally successfully made things I felt like a rockstar. It was well worth the swearing and working through it all.
Truly when I got sick I couldn’t do much work. My brain was foggy from fighting that Virus (I got CMV) and it took over a month to come back, so I sewed because it made me feel like I was still in motion in my work. I learned how to do a rolled hem and can sew about 4 napkins in an hour now. I am still working on it and I am not perfect, but it is coming. That said, I started realizing I can make napkins but I wear bandanas all the time and I wanted to start making my own. So I started a narrow rolled hem on some cheap muslin cotton fabric. This week I will do my first batch of dye on those bandanas. Each one hand dyed and processed. I also plan to hand print patterns on some as well. I am telling you this is all new to me but I am so in love. I have never felt more fulfilled. The processes are all so beautiful and slow and require me to be patient and present. The plants all gathered from our land and inspired by the seasons around me. Just one more way I have become aware of the seasons unfolding around us.
That said, the store will still be opening this fall, but it won’t contain the things I thought, but it is better than I thought. There will be hand printed, hand plant-dyed bandanas made by your’s truly and some shirts as well and block printed prints from my designs that are inspired by the seasons and my doodles I have had in my notebooks for ages. I will also have a few pieces from local makers as well that I have worked with. There will also be a few other items that are vintage items I have collected over the years that really exude the culture here.
It isn’t the same as I envisioned but the more I go down this route the more I see where the ultimate goal ends up. I still see a physical location and more face to face time with followers and customers. I see more of building a brand that is focused on local mindsets, eating well and supporting makers and farmers. I see a place that keeps to lowering waste and an impact on the earth. I get so excited about where it all is heading and what our goals are. I realized not everything has to be accomplished now and in fact it is best accomplished over time as possible and in the flow of life.
This whole shop is influenced by the area and what Leelanau County to me is all about. There are varying cultures here but this area has a culture that is what has inspired me to do what I do and so I want this whole space from the things I make to the other makers coming in and participating to any other items we bring in to this vision to feel like a further extension of that lifestyle we love here.
I plan to share a little more on stories now that I am better and we are getting closer to really getting this thing going. I just have been working through a lot of this stuff from moving in a new direction in my career in my heart and also just trying to find the clear picture.
The thing that keeps me going though is the vision of creating a community of people around this brand that believes in the slow culture of seasonal living and the purpose it takes and the beauty it brings. I have always wanted to own a store and to work with inspiring people, but now every day I feel one step closer than I was before to that dream. I know it will all come naturally if I just keep trusting my gut and focus on the things that matter most in this process and not the things that can easily pull you in the wrong direction.
Finally, though you may have caught it but I am also working on a series of Ebooks about Seasonal Eating. I cannot promise when those will show up and it may take some time to get them right and make them the resources I want them to be for you guys, but know those are in the works. I am writing all the recipes I cook each night, testing them, and making notes to make eating seasonal seem simpler, approachable, and less of a chore. Afterall eating is a basic act, but it doesn’t have to be a gimic or something that takes too much work. I strongly believe in the power of eating seasonally on any level. There are HUGE health benefits, it lowers your footprint, and keeps more money in your community. All beneficial to you and those you love. Not to mention I think eating this way is super easy too because the earth tells us what goes together if we let her. It takes just a few great staples to go with it all. Anyways, I could write for hours about it all.
So there you guys go. That’s what has been happening here the last few months. I am working a ton but not behind a computer as much and I am happiest that way. I am still tied to my phone and my notebooks, but I am happy to be out actively involved in my work. It feels right and good. I feel like I finally have a grasp on who I am becoming in my career after feeling lost for a few years a little bit.
In the process, the greatest thing I have learned is that there is value in finding calm in the storm of it. To let the storm brew and blow and feel it all. There is beauty in the place you will find yourself after letting it all fly around you and hit the fan. I also believe that life is too short to not jump in with both feet to what you love. It is scary as hell. Believe me. Every day. I am scared, but over time I am feeling this calm in the fear that if I am not scared how could I be really on the right path?
Well, I am going to get back to dying things and hunting down the plants I need from the land. I am happiest there and the farmers market and summer is in full bloom now. I need to live now and not here behind the screen. So I will be back out there. Follow along and I will do a live to talk more about this and answer questions with you guys so watch for an announcement about that in the next week or so.